Last month I began teaching piano lessons online. Many of my online piano teaching colleagues have been doing this for quite a while and I decided to make the plunge. Even before I began teaching online I spoke with my online piano teaching friends and speculated that the online piano lesson would be of a different nature than traditional studio teaching.
I found that I was correct. To teach online piano lessons, as if it were simply like a studio one on one piano lesson, is to miss the subtlety that distance learning provides. I feel it is a mistake to view online lessons as a lesser version of the private studio lesson but I think many people hold this incorrect assumption. The two kinds of lessons are different animals. It is important to know those differences to provide the most effective instruction. The following quote gives us clues on the differences between online music lessons and one on one studio lessons.
American Journal of Distance Education, 24(2), 92-103. Orman, E. K. and Whitaker, J. A. (2010).
Time usage during face-to-face and synchronous distance music lessons.
This experimental study closely compares multiple aspects of applied instrumental music lessons in face-to-face and online lesson settings. Three middle school students (one saxophonist, two tubists) had lessons with a saxophone and tuba instructor respectively. Each student had a mix of face-to-face and online video lessons which were videotaped and coded for a variety of factors. When on-line lessons were compared to face to face lessons, there was a 28% increase in student playing, a 36% decrease in off-task comments by the instructor, a 28% decrease in teacher playing (modeling), and an increase in student eye contact. In the online lessons, less than 3% of the time was spent on technology issues, although audio and video quality concerns were mentioned.
This quote highlights the different nature of one on one learning (studio learning) with distance learning (online piano lessons). This quote also demonstrates they are indeed two different animals and brings out distinct advantages that online distance learning provides. Let’s examine some of the statements of this quote and take note of distinct differences between studio learning and distance learning.
When on-line lessons were compared to face to face lessons, there was a 28% increase in student playing,
Online lessons, by their nature, is a medium that will increase the students playing time on their instrument. Teachers need to use this information positively in designing their online lessons. If the nature of the medium is to have the student play 28% more, on average, the teacher can adjust the lesson with this in mind. The learning will be in the doing more than in the explaining.
The tasks of the online lesson are suited to the specific performance on the instrument more so than in studio one on one lessons. I found this to be true in the lessons I taught online. It was very natural to give focus to the performance and go through each passage several times. In face to face lessons each repetition was an instruction dealing with what would improve the playing of the passage. Another subtle difference was in the online lesson there was more trying out better fingerings instead of just a verbal instruction to use the fingering given in the manuscript.
a 36% decrease in off-task comments by the instructor
I also found this comment to be true and also something that’s simply the nature of online instruction. When you’re with the student one on one it is natural to talk to the student about thinks not directly related to the musical material and it’s easy to get off task and speak of items not directly related to the lesson. Certainly it’s important for any teacher to have some knowledge of their students that are not musically related but online lessons, by their nature, decrease off-task comments by the instructor. Knowing this the instructor can prepare a lessons that’s very task oriented and can feel at the end of the lesson they covered their material in depth. The teacher feels not that “we had a good lesson this week” but “we got a lot of important material covered in this weeks lesson“; a subtle but important difference.
a 28% decrease in teacher playing (modeling)
Again, I found this to be true. During the online lesson I do a lot less modeling than in the one on one studio lesson. Again the nature of the online lesson directs attention very naturally on the student’s performance and the perceptive teacher will direct his attention to this fact; and I feel a very positive fact if the teacher uses it to their advantage. It is in issues like this that I feel it is not smart teaching to make the online learning experience simply mimic the face to face studio lesson. They indeed are two different animals and each has its own nature to give students the maximum benefit of the lesson time. (NOTE: This blog is not to downgrade studio lessons but to highlight the distinct advantages online distant learning provides by comparison.)
and an increase in student eye contact
I find it interesting that online lessons resulted in an increase in eye contact. But in private lessons when one doesn’t slide into non-musical conversation one involves themselves in teaching tasks that doesn’t require eye contact. Things like modeling or writing in the student’s books and manuscripts or in pointing out items in the score. But in teaching online after one is completed with all their performance tasks the student instinctively looks into the WebCam to look for the teacher’s next instruction and a good bit of eye contact is made because the teacher in looking into his WebCam to make eye contact with the student. So, even something as personal as eye contact is increased in online lessons compared to one on one studio lessons. Another plus for online lessons simply because of the nature of online learning vs studio instruction.
In the online lessons, less than 3% of the time was spent on technology issues, although audio and video quality concerns were mentioned.
To be truthful this issue did come up. There were times when we got cut off or I lost the video of the student, or when using a different camera view I had to learn how to deal with microphone issues, but these were quickly resolved and just proved a minor inconvenience.
ONE MORE THING: Students take ownership of their music and manuscripts.
When I’m one on one with a student I generally did all the writing in the student’s books and manuscripts. I cannot do this when teaching online, of course BUT I have the student write all my recommendations. By having the student to do this, the student takes ownership of the music they are learning. When they write “no pausing between sections” on their music it means more to them than if I do it.
I hope this blog got you to thinking of the different nature of piano lessons caused by the medium we use, whether one on one studio teaching or online piano lessons. The different nature of each should automatically cause adjustments in our teaching. As a teacher we need to maximize those adjustments to the full benefit of our students. AND as the beginning research begins analyzing and comparing the two mediums online piano lessons provide some distinct advantages that can be utilized by the perceptive and savvy piano teacher.